Lenovo Thinkpad T460s First Impressions

I recently switched laptops from the T440s to the T460s. I’ve long been a fan of the Thinkpads, both during the IBM period and the Lenovo reign of late. The T440s was a bit of a mistake in my opinion. Sure it performed as you’d expect, but the mouse was a huge pile of dung, and the keyboard wasn’t nice either. My favorite is still the T410s, which had the non-chiclet keyboard, similar or same as the old IBM Thinkpads had. I had a bunch of issues with the T440s over its 2 year and some odd month lifespan. The SSD broke early on and had to be replaced. I broke the keyboard (no fault of Lenovo, but still), and one USB port is unusable (not sure why). Battery life is still good after two years of business use, and it has no technical faults other than the ones I listed. It’ll still serve as my secondary machine, and probably do so for quite some years.

Plan old packaging
Plain old packaging

I got the T460s hot off the press, just a week after release, or so. I opted for the 20F9-0043MS model which has the full-HD matte screen, 4 + 4GB of RAM (which i expanded to 20GB by switching out the sole 4GB stick for a 16GB one), Core i7-6600U processor, and so on.

Hardware

First, let’s look at the hardware. We have output from CPU-Z first, showing the features of the CPU:

cpuz_lenovo_t460s
Detail of the main page, showing Skylake U/Y series CPU. Note the rather cool 15W TDP and 4MB L3 cache, plus the awesome 14nm manufacturing process.
cpuz_memory_lenovo_t460s
Detail of memory page. Total of 20GB DDR4, 4GB internal soldered on the motherboard, + 16GB SO-DIMM
cpuz_mainboard_lenovo_t460s
Mainboard details. Propietary Lenovo motherboard, running 1.05 BIOS (later upgraded to 1.08)
cpuz_caches_lenovo_t460s
CPU-Z Cache page listing the CPU caches

Then GPU-Z, showing the integrated Intel HD Graphics 520:

gpuz_lenovo_t460s
GPU-Z output. Chip is Skylake GT2 from last fall

 

Then we move on to the SSD, which appears to be an M.2 type drive and not your standard 2.5″ SSD. I’ll get an internal picture later for you, but opening the bottom of the machine (which is much easier than in the T440s which had icky plastic tabs that were too easy to break off), shows you all the user replaceable parts, which are very easily accessible! The SSD is manufactured by Samsung, however the model seems to be something sold to OEMs (the catchy MZNLN256HCHP). Some forums speculate that it is similar to the 850 (EVO?) model, but nothing certain.

Here’s some output from SSD-Z:

ssdz_lenovo_t460s
Some data on the Samsung SSD. Sata-3 bus, 256GB

 

CrystalDiskMark 5.1.2 results for the T460s
CrystalDiskMark 5.1.2 results for the T460s

If you want to compare performance (I’m not saying Crystal Diskmark is the ultimate tool, and these are not official testing conditions, but they are .. comprable I would wager) to some select SSD:s, here’s my Intel 910’s (PCI-E card) results, and here are the Samsung 840 Pro results, the T440s results and finally the venerable T410s’ results. All results with 64-bit CrystalDiskMark version 5.1.2, default settings.

Mobile Connectivity

There’s a 4G/LTE card in this model, which is a Sierra Wireless EM7455 Qualcomm Snapdragon X7 LTE-A WWAN Modem. The fun part was taking out the SIM-caddy, which was surprisingly already occupied! There was a “Lenovo Connect” SIM-card inside. Apparently, Lenovo has partnered up with a number of carriers worldwide (115 countries according to Lenovo). But since those cost extra, and I already have such connectivity in the countries I need to travel to, I took the SIM out. You might want to have a look at it, but it looks like most packages have data caps, which I discard out of principle. The prices don’t look.. bad, I suppose. Here’s the link http://shop.lenovo.com/fi/fi/lenovoconnect/index.html

As for the 4G performance, I tested it in Lapland, which has superb 4G connectivity (probably due to the low amount of subscribers per cell), it works fine without additional software in Windows 10. Speedtest gave me the following results (DNA is the carrier).

Speedtest run in April of 2016 in Finnish Lapland
Speedtest run in April of 2016 in Finnish Lapland

WiFi card is an Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 8260, and the gigabit NIC is an Intel I219-LM. Both are bog-standard intel quality and have worked fine.

There is one thing that annoyed the piss out of me. Clicking the Notifications icon in the systray…

..this one!
..this one!

You get the otherwise handy Action Center / Notification bar thing, where you can turn off things like bluetooth, wireless, and yes, even cellular (though it is not showing here right now). Well, what happens if you turn off cellular here, and you want it back? Naturally, instinct tells you to open the action center thing again and re-enable it! But, what if it doesn’t show up (like it did for me)? What then? Well the next step is to go to Network Connections, look at the adapters and enabl… oh but wait it’s already enabled. But still it’s off, and you can’t connect? Crap!

Handy action center!
Handy action center! Not showing cellular because of reasons?

So after an unreasonable amount of googling, I found some people with similar issues. Apparently you can’t enable it anywhere in Windows proper (if you can, please tell me in the comments). No amount of enabling and disabling the card in network connections or device manager brings it back, or going to airplane mode or.. whatever. Instead what you need to do is sign out, and in the login screen, click the connectivity icon (the wireless symbol). From there, you can re-enable the radio of the WWAN card. Horse shit I say!

Clean install of Windows 10

I don’t care for manufacture-bloated OS’s, so I did a clean re-install of Windows 10 Enterprise, build 1511. Because I’m a dummy, I didn’t initially realize my mistake and attempted to install from my Easy2Boot USB drive. And that works too, if you’ve read the instructions and understand what you are doing… Here’s what I did wrong, so you don’t have to do the same things:

  1. Easy2Boot works fine, but you have to understand that if the install image is of UEFI type (which the windows image is), you can’t just copy the image to the Windows directory like other images
  2. You have to follow these instructions and make the Windows install image into an imgPTN image, and then try again.. Follow these instructions: http://www.easy2boot.com/add-payload-files/adding-uefi-images/
  3. Or, alternatively, get a suitably sized USB stick (4GB should do, 8GB will most definitely do), and use the Windows Media Creation tool (only for home and pro versions), or use Rufus but select the “GPT partition scheme for UEFI” option under ‘Partition Scheme and Target System Type’, or it won’t boot correctly. Or use the Windows 7-era tool (step 12 onwards) https://blogs.technet.microsoft.com/ptsblog/2015/08/19/how-to-create-a-bootable-usb-stick-or-a-bootable-dvd-for-windows-10/
  4. In my case, it did boot, but failed to find suitable devices to install to, or was lacking other drivers
  5. And no, adding SATA or other disk-related drivers during install did nothing to fix this – It’s an UEFI issue
  6. Changing BIOS settings between UEFI only, Legacy only, and Legacy first (and the CSM setting) also didn’t help in this case

After learning about UEFI stuff, installation was straightforward. The only Lenovo tool I like to install is the excellent Lenovo System Update, which keeps track of correct drivers and helper software and makes sure it is up to date. Also updates your BIOS, which is pretty useful. As of this date, BIOS 1.08 (or.. UEFI, I guess)

There’s more to write, but so far, I’m very pleased with the T460s. Much more than the 440s. The hardware is easily accessible, it’s performant and the mouse is much improved. To quote Wil Wheaton: “Later, nerds.”

 

 

Windows 10 Experiences

Prep work

Every single blog probably has a post like this, but I figured it’d be good to recount my Windows 10 experiences. For posterity reasons, if nothing else.

I was involved in the Windows Insider program for quite some time (since the 9000-series builds), and have run Windows 10 pretty happily in a number of physical and virtual machines. Among them, VMware Workstation 11, Virtualbox 4, and a Thinkpad T420s. All without major issues, even when it was still in the preview stage.

Updating my own workstation is another issue entirely, but I figured I would do it anyway, and fix any issues that might come up as they hit.

I started off performing a standalone full backup using Veeam Endpoint to an external USB drive, and moving the Veeam recovery media to that same external disk. This is a good practice in case everything blows up in your face. Using Veeam Endpoint, I could perform a bare metal recovery in the event of a total disaster, and return to my pre-upgrade state.

The plan was as follows: Update Windows 7 to Windows 10, wipe install and do a clean Windows 10 install. The reason behind this? During the upgrade phase, your Windows 7 (or I suppose 8/8.1) product key is converted to a Windows 10 key, and paired with some kind of hardware id, identifying your computer. One could try and install Windows 10 directly, and use the common key that seems to be the same on all machines that do the 7,8,8.1 -> 10  upgrade (for the Pro version, it’s: VK7JG-NPHTM-C97JM-9MPGT-3V66T), but they have reported that the install fails. This is probably because there is some backend magic that happens during the upgrade, which ties your computer to Windows 10.

So I started off getting the Windows 10 media using the Microsoft Windows Media Creation tool. I also saved the ISO to a USB drive where I could perform the full install later from. Some people have reported that starting the upgrade from the install media has been more successful than the “Windows Update” method. If you want to force your upgrade the Windows Update way, you can do the following:

  • Remove all files from the folder: ”WindowsSoftwareDistributionDownload”
  • Remove the folder ”$Windows.~BT” from the root of your system drive
  • Start an administrative command prompt and run ”wuauclt.exe /updatenow”
  • Open and run Windows Update from the control panel

The Upgrade

I however opted for the install media method which seemed to work fine. I mounted the ISO (using WinCDEmu if you want to know), and started setup.exe and followed the upgrade wizard. Everything proceeded basically without incident; except for a weird Razer Synapse install popup during the upgrade:

win10_razerKind of weird, and also tells me that explorer.exe is running somewhere in the background there (I thought it was basically in a “pre-windows” environment where it performs the upgrade before it starts any more advanced GUI elements). I was unable to install Razer Synapse (a program I had installed in Windows 7, which was therefore going over to the new Windows 10 world); it crashed with some error. I dismissed the window. It didn’t appear to bother the upgrade in any way. But funny none the less!

After the upgrade, I had a basically working Windows 10 environment with all of my Windows 7 software etc. Nvidia drivers were installed as part of the upgrade and they were of the correct version (which supports Windows 10). Nvidia’s own little control panel did offer me an upgrade to the same version, but was unable to install it. Somehow it didn’t detect that Windows had already installed the same version. I didn’t troubleshoot this further, as everything was working and I was going to do the clean install anyway. Razer Synapse also worked, but also didn’t detect that it was already installed and insistently popped up the same install wizard as in the picture above, but failed with an error. It’s already installed! Give up! 🙂

N.B. Do not proceed unless Windows tells you it is activated. You can also check your upgraded Windows 10 key using a tool like Magic Jelly Bean Keyfinder (or some other method you prefer)

The Clean Install

I wanted a completely clean environment, as I’ve had bad experiences with Windows upgrades since the 3.1 -> Windows 95 upgrade. Just trust me.

I had a bootable USB with the Windows 10 x64 Pro installation media on it. I was prepared to re-install all applications etc. And I had a backup of everything just in case. Boot the machine, perform a clean install from the USB drive. Enter the product key starting with VK7JG during installation, no issues here. Install went without incident. It might not even ask you for a key, apparently, since it was activated after the upgrade.

After install, I had one device with missing drivers (Asus Xonar DG soundcard); everything else worked “out-of-the-box”. Installed a bunch of my favorite programs, and so far, a week or so after upgrade, I still have not had any major issues.

Now, what I did do is disable all forms of tracking and “send information to microsoft”-type of settings. I’ll do another post on this. Basically, it seems to be really hard to get rid of everything tracking related, because some of the call home functions are hard coded and IP based, so a simple host-file block won’t work. You need to deal with it on a firewall level, but even then, some users are reporting funny issues with their computer when it can’t call home. Which is sad. But then again, the EULA probably states you don’t actually own Windows 10 or have any rights to it, and the upgrade is free, so whatever. Take my first born.

Sources:

Among others.. https://www.reddit.com/r/Windows10/comments/3f2rl2/windows_10_ultimate_upgrade_guide/
http://muropaketti.com/14-miljoonaa-paivitti-windows-10iin-vuorokaudessa-varattujen-paivitysten-jonon-purkuun-menee-viikkoja
http://muropaketti.com/windows-10-prohon-paivittaneet-jakavat-saman-geneerisen-tuoteavaimen

Build 10240: Did you get assigned a license/product key? from Windows10

 

Some of the privacy related stuff:

http://arstechnica.co.uk/information-technology/2015/08/even-when-told-not-to-windows-10-just-cant-stop-talking-to-microsoft/
http://localghost.org/posts/a-traffic-analysis-of-windows-10   <—- Note that this looks very shady, I would take it with a metric fuck-ton of salt